Sean Lewis – Festival director, recording producer and music fanatic!
As many of you may know, my life has been immersed in classical music for as long as I can remember. I often say that I am ‘damaged’ in the most wonderful way. Over the last 30 years I have had the privilege to work with many wonderful musicians as recording producer, and immersed in so much music. 1000 CDs on, in 2018 we (being Lars Anders Tomter and I) started Fjord Classics, which has become the most meaningful project I’ve done.
One of our festival audience suggested to me recently, “Why don’t you write a blog? You know so much about music and share with us from the stage so many interesting and fun facts!” This got me thinking, and in all humility I’ve decided to give it a go. Let’s see what comes out of it.
Aside from the festival work, my ‘every days’ continue to be filled with recording projects and concert experiences. A CD recording typically consists of about a week in the ‘studio’ – which in the classical music world generally means a church or a concert hall – thereafter many hours in the post production process, in my case in my studio which we built as an extension to our house about 15 years ago. It’s a great space, designed by architect Erik Åsheim. Apart from an acoustically ’perfect’ room for mixing, I wanted a space that would be inspiring (I know how many hours I would be spending there). For those who are interested in construction, it’s built as a double shell, which is a ‘room within a room’. The inner shell has no contact with the outer. This gives considerable extra sound isolation, which is of course very important, especially as our house backs on to a motorway(!). Concrete walls, lots of Rockwool and a skylight that floods the room with light, I couldn’t be happier with my ´office´.
In these blogs, I’d like to give an insight into some of the music productions I’ve produced – some recently and some that go back many years. I’d like to give an impression of how all these experiences go into the melting pot when program the concerts each Fjord Classics festival. What I love about my work is that every project is different, Firstly of course, the music, but as much the people and venues we record in.
To start with a large format, I’ve recently delivered the CD master for Rolf Gupta’s Jordens sang. Some readers may have heard one of the performances given in Trondheim, Kristiansand or Oslo over the last year or so. We recorded the 2021 Oslo concert followed by a day of extra recording (without audience). It’s a massive piece in terms of forces and instrumentation, but also the whole concept, starting from the beginning of the world to a ‘I-don’t-know-what’ ecstatic enormous (aka loud) climax. When I edited it all together (some bits from the live performance, some from the patching sessions, and actually a few bits from the rehearsals), I had Rolf with me in the studio where we went through some details. My approach is always to serve the music to my best ability, the aim being to capture and all the details in the score, but also the atmosphere that the music needs. It´s quite tricky to get every incredibly quiet element in the piece to sound while so much going on. But here’s the thing, Rolf writes so well and gives the right acoustical space for the sometimes very weird sounds to emerge through the texture. There is this deep deep bass sound you hear, especially at the beginning and the end. The piece begins with no fewer than four bass drums (grand cassa), rumbling as if from nowhere. And then it grows… It really is a wonderful piece. The CD should be available sometime in 2023.
From one extreme to another, another recent project has been a solo cello CD with Ernst Simon Glaser. We spent together a week in Ris church (in Oslo), just the two of us and this splendid acoustic. The music he plays is seven commissioned pieces by Norwegian composers, each of which are linked to a specific movement from Bach’s cello suites which are also recorded. It’s fascinating to hear the Bach side by side with each of the new pieces. In some places it’s quite easy to recognise the ‘original’, like a contour of a Bach phrase. Other places, what do you hear is related to the Bach in a more diffuse or vague way. The final product ended up as a double CD. I will add that some of the Norwegian pieces are devilishly difficult to play! Really on the boundry of what’s physically possible to play, and Ernst Simon is the man who can do it. He tells me that he’d planned this project for about 20 years. It´s a really deep process he’s gone through, from commissioning the pieces, working with the composers and ultimately learning to play them all! At the end of the recording, after the last take is recorded, it’s suddenly over! Like Superman taking off, and then he’s gone. It´s always a special feeling. Then it’s left with me to edit together. Towards the end of the post production, we both then sat in the studio for many hours, working on more details, until we (again) said ‘it’s done’. 20 years of work for Ernst Simon rounded off. I do encourage as many people as possible to have a taste of this production. I recommend listening to the whole recording from beginning to end.
Meanwhile, between recording work, there is the festival that’s always in my mind. We want to give great musical experiences, which for me is much more than just finding great pieces. I´ve written and expressed many times that we want to inspire our audiences. This for me includes an element of challenge to our listeners. I little tickle of your curiosity. Having been born and bred in London, as a student I experienced many hundreds of concerts from the BBC Proms festival. Its founder, Henry Wood, had a clear vision right from the start. Every concert should include at least one piece of contemporary music. This has stayed with me. Every piece ever written has, by definition been ‘new music’. Being conscious of that gives a perspective and a reminder that music is something that is always in flux.
Thanks for reading this. My aim is to write a new blog once a month. Some will be shorter than this first one. Christmas is soon upon us and I’d like just to mention a couple of super concerts I experienced earlier this month: 1) The Norwegian Soloists performed at packed Jar Church several pieces from their wonderful new Christmas CD, titled Veni. Shining deliveries with vocal quality second to none. 2) The so called Fagottkor (loosely translated as Gay Choir) debuted this year at the huge Oslo Spektrum arena. Their Christmas concerts are always a seasonal highlight for me, an absolute scream, hilarious, but also touching a serious undertone and references to the struggles that gay people have suffered for years. At this year’s enormous arena, it’s now been lifted to another level. What a show! Available now on NRK TV.
To sign off, here’s a bit of ‘my music’. Things that touch me. This little playlist includes:
- Bruckner´s motet ‘Os Justi’, sung by the outstanding ensemble ‘Tenebrae’. Just uplifting.
- Brahms´ Intermezzo op.117 for solo piano. Some of the most beautiful music written.
- One of my all time favourite singers…
(remember to click the little Spotify icon at top right to hear the full tracks)
Comments welcomed on mail: